During his 23 years as a prosecutor in Carter County, District Attorney Craig Ladd has played a role in both taking drug dealers off the streets and helping non-violent drug users recover.
The Association of Oklahoma Narcotic Enforcers recently recognized Ladd for his work as Region Four Prosecutor of the Year. Ladd served as a Carter County assistant district attorney for nine years after being hired straight out of law school at the University of Oklahoma.
After his predecessor, Mitch Sperry, passed away, former Oklahoma governor Brad Henry appointed Ladd as the district attorney of District 20. Throughout his 13 years as DA, Ladd said he has been able to surround himself with a wonderful staff.
“I think that’s a big reason for my success,” Ladd said. “I surrounded myself with some really very capable and dedicated people that are all like-minded in terms of what we do. We really have a passion for our jobs of advocating for victims and we all understand the dangers of drugs.”
A local attorney who has worked with Ladd in many different aspects nominated Ladd for the award.
In his letter of recommendation, he wrote, “Craig continues to be a dedicated prosecutor and a fine person. He recognizes the harm illegal drugs cause and handles drug cases with a goal of keeping illegal drugs and drug dealers off the streets. I would highly recommend Craig Ladd for your drug prosecutor of the year.”
One of the largest drug-related cases Ladd said he has prosecuted was the 2014 Hoover Crips gang of Ardmore case.
“A few years ago it was revealed that Ardmore had some really high violent crime rate numbers,” Ladd said. “It involved a lot of drug activity and some personal wars between some gangs we had here in town and resulted in a lot of drive-by shootings. There were at least a couple of homicides we felt like were linked to the gang activity.”
A member of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was in town trying to work up a racketeering case to prosecute members of the gang federally, Ladd said. However, when federal prosecutors wouldn’t take the case, Ladd said he decided to move forward with it.
Around 12 different gang members were indicted with multiple felony charges, including racketeering.
“After the prosecution of that case it seemed to settle things down quite a bit here in Ardmore,” Ladd said. “And I think there’s still a direct link to that case and drug activity.”
According to data from the Ardmore Police Department, the crime rate in Ardmore has dropped 63 percent since 2014.
Ladd said he has also been involved in three drug trafficking cases within the last 10 years where the defendants were sentenced to life without parole; as well as many more distribution and possession of methamphetamine cases.
But even cases where there are no allegations of drug use often involve drugs, he said. Of the cases he has prosecuted, Ladd said he believes at least 80 percent are drug-related.
“It’s such a huge problem. It bleeds over into other offenses and it causes other offenses and it’s really become intertwined,” Ladd said. “I deal with a lot of people who are in the situations that they’re in because they’re abusing drugs. This award is just about narcotics primarily, but narcotics bleed over into everything else.”
During his time as district attorney, Ladd said he has seen many horrible things happen because of drug use. An example, he said, is parents turning their backs on their children through the termination of their rights because they can’t kick their drug habits.
Drug use can be devastating to families and societies and because of this, Ladd said some of his proudest moments as a prosecutor have not been punishing people for drug use, but helping them reintegrate into society.
“I try to be firm but compassionate. I’m out and about a lot and I run into people pretty often that I have helped through the system with this compassionate leverage to get them help,” Ladd said. “They’ll come up and shake my hand and say ‘You saved my life by leaning on me to make me go get help. It turned everything around for me’.”